I Fail at Blogging in Siena: Part 1

Maddison Sullivan
July 3, 2016

Ok, so it seems I have failed at keeping a blog. I’m actually keeping a daily journal for myself and then putting the highlights in my blog, but it’s been 10 days since my last journal entry. Since I have failed so miserably, I’m going to write two blog posts this week: one for the week of June 20th and another for this last week (the week of June 27th). Now, sit back, relax, and let me take you back to June 20th…

On Monday and Tuesday, I was knocked out by my cold. I really wanted to rest and get it out of my system, so I spent much of the day in bed marathoning Frankie and Grace on Netflix (I highly recommend it, by the way) when I wasn’t in class. My host mom did show up at my bedroom door with a silver serving tray with hot chocolate and Pavesini (these little sweet Italian biscuits that are scrumdiliumptious). I was touched that she did that for me.  It was so sweet.

On Wednesday, I went to class and then I went to the Siena market that pops up every Wednesday morning. I bought a dress, romper, and delicious pork sandwich.  Then I walked around a couple of the neighborhoods (called contrade) and tried to find their fountains.

In Siena, there are 17 different contrade that each have their own church, museum, and fountain.  One of my goals has been to find all 17 fountains while I’m here, but I’m starting to realize how hard that is. On Wednesday, I found two of them, but one of them looked like a giant stick and not at all like a fountain. I had to ask the woman in the museum where to find it. I’m not giving up yet, but finding the other 15 fountains is definitely going to be a challenge.

On Thursday, we went to Corsini’s, a bakery/pizzeria, where we got to see how ricciarelli (Sienese almond cookies) and panforte (an Italian dessert-type thing, similar to fruit cake, except people like it here) are made. It was so cool to get to go behind the scenes and listen to an Italian baker explain just how much work goes into the bakery we eat here. So much could be industrialized and made cheaply, but they understand the importance of quality, so they do most things the hard way, and it’s apparent when you taste the final product.

On Friday, everyone in my program took a field trip (through IES Abroad) to Populonia on the Baratti coast. In Populonia, they’ve found a bunch of Etruscan ruins, so we took an hour and a half hike through them (which was mostly shaded) and when we got to the top of the mountain, the view was fantastic. I also got to touch the femur (thigh bone) of a 2500-year-old person. It was insane.

After our hike, we had a delicious lunch and then we went to the beach. I spent about an hour and a half sitting by myself on the shore, letting the nearly perfect 75º water wash over me. It was peaceful and incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, despite the fact that I used sunscreen, I managed to get super sunburnt and I couldn’t move that night. Thank goodness I had packed aloe vera from home. I don’t know what I would’ve done without it.

On Saturday, the girls and I went to Florence. I went to a museum where I saw a replica of the David (which is apparently about 30 feet tall in real life. Who knew?). While I was waiting in line, I saw someone I know from Carnegie Mellon, too, proving that it really is a small world after all!  

I didn’t have time to go inside the Duomo, but I took some great pictures of the outside. The girls and I hit up the night life in Florence (rare for me, but I had a blast), and then on Sunday we did a bit of shopping in the morning. We took the train back to Siena in the afternoon.

Now I mentioned above that there are 17 neighborhoods in the city of Siena. These neighborhoods compete in a horse race (the Palio) every year which has been going on since medieval times. This is not just a regular competition, though. Imagine the Kentucky Derby meets Cleveland’s Game 7 of the NBA finals. Not any other city. Not games 1-6. Now multiply that energy by 50. That’s what the Palio is for Siena. 

The word “Palio” is the name of the race, but it is also the name of the banner that the contrada wins. It is hand-painted, usually by a local artist, and the banner is revealed the Sunday before the actual race. I went to see this reveal, and let me tell you, it was an experience.

They have a ceremony in the city hall at 7 PM, where everyone is packed in like sardines. I showed up at 6:45, standing outside in the crowd trying to push its way in to see the Palio. When I made it in, I heard a woman say, “It’s gray!” to her friend. Her face lit up and she was near tears, as this was a sign of hope that her neighborhood was going to win this year. 

Winning the Palio is not a petty winning of money or something shallow. Winning the Palio is the biggest thing that can happen for a contrada. After they win, everyone in the contrada walks around sucking on pacifiers for about a week, signifying that winning the Palio provides a “rebirth” for the neighborhood. It brings joy and hope to everyone in the neighborhood, but loss can bring devastation to the others.

When asked by my professor what I thought of the Palio, I told her I couldn’t explain the emotions, but I knew I loved it. She looked at me and said, “You can say it with one word. Palio is life.”


I can’t wait to tell you all about the race next week!



More Blogs From This Author

View All Blogs

Maddison Sullivan

<div>I&#39;m a 21-year-old former Irish dancer, cheerleader, marching band member, and bagpiper. Right now, I&#39;m a psychology&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">student at Carnegie Mellon University where I bleed plaid! I also study Spanish and Italian and spend my free time&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">volunteering as a member of our student-run EMS organization on campus. I&#39;m beginning my journey as a world&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">traveler, starting in Italy, stopping in Walt Disney World for a semester, and ending in Spain. I love trying anything and&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 1.538em;">everything and I can&#39;t wait to take you on my journey with me!</span></div>

2016 Summer 1, 2016 Summer 2
Home University:
Carnegie Mellon University
Behavioral Neuroscience
Explore Blogs